US Forest Service Research & Development
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  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Collecting fire data in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

Sean A. Parks

Research Ecologist
790 East Beckwith Avenue
United States

Phone: 406-542-4182
Contact Sean A. Parks

Current Research

My research is currently focused on four broad topic areas. First, I am investigating the role of wildland fire in acting as a fuel treatment. That is, I am quantifying how past wildland fire affects subsequent fire spread, severity, size, etc. Second, I am conducting studies that identify the relationship between climate and fire regimes. One of the primary goals of this research is to better understand how climate change will influence fire regimes. Third, I am identifying factors that are likely to result in fire-facilitated conversion from forest to non-forest. Lastly, I conduct studies that evaluate landscape connectivity under a warming climate. Many, but certainly not all, of my studies are conducted using data from designated wilderness or other protected areas (e.g., National Parks). The relevancy of my research, however, is applicable across all land designations.

Research Interests

I am interested in spatial interactions between past wildland fire and subsequent fire events. I am specifically interested in how past fires “regulate” subsequent fires in terms of fire size, severity, ignition potential, etc. I am also keenly interested in better understanding how climate shapes fire regimes, which is particularly relevant given that climate change will inevitably result in changes to fire regimes. Furthermore, I am interested in identifying those factors that control conifer seedling establishment and survival (i.e., regeneration). Other research interests include satellite detection of fire effects and spread, retrospective evaluations of the influence of weather and topography on fire behavior, and the restoration of fire as a natural process. Designated wilderness and similarly protected areas are excellent “laboratories” for conducting much of this work because there is minimal human infrastructure (e.g., roads) and, in several protected areas, many fires are not actively suppressed. I am also actively involved in research involving climate change connectivity, including metrics such as climate velocity, climate exposure, and climate corridors.

Past Research

  • Exploiting remotely sensed data to better understand fire behavior and effects: I took the lead in developing a 1) method for fine-resolution mapping of fire progression, or day of burning, using very coarse satellite (MODIS) fire detection data and 2) new burn severity metric using Landsat imagery called the relativized burn ratio (RBR).
  • Corridor/connectivity modelling: I contributed to several projects modelling the connectivity of wolverine, lynx, and mountain beaver.
  • Evaluating approaches for mapping burn probabilities for a quantitative risk analysis framework: I contributed to several projects that involved the use of fire simulation models to map the probability of burning in several large protected areas.
  • Biogeography, island biogeography, and extinctions in protected areas: In a past life, I was involved with several research projects that evaluated 1) factors responsible for primate species distributions and 2) extinctions within protected areas.

Why This Research is Important

Wildland fire is one of the most pervasive and important ecological processes on the planet, and although the Forest Service spends in excess of one billion dollars per year suppressing fire, large areas of land burn each year. Consequently, there is a growing recognition that our society needs to better co-exist with wildland fire and that it should be restored as an ecological process to some landscapes. How to best restore fire, however, is challenging because of excessive fuel buildup, risks to lives and property, and climate change. Designated wilderness and similarly protected lands turn out to be excellent “laboratories” for conducting studies on how fire naturally responds to climate, topography, weather, fuels, and past fires. As such, studies conducted in protected areas can provide information to managers, policy makers, the public, and other scientists that will better enable the restoration of fire as a natural process in a safe and effective manner.


  • University of Montana, Ph.D. Forestry 2014
  • University of California, Davis, M.A. Geography 2006
  • University of California, Davis, B.S. Environmental Biology and Management 1998

Professional Experience

  • Research Ecologist, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute - RMRS
    2015 - Current
  • Ecologist, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute - RMRS
    2008 - 2015
  • Biological Scientist, LANDFIRE - RMRS
    2006 - 2008
  • Geographer, Pacific Southwest Research Station
    2002 - 2006

Awards & Recognition

  • Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE), 2019
    PECASE is the highest honor bestowed by the United States Government to outstanding scientists and engineers who are beginning their independent research careers and who show exceptional promise for leadership in science and technology.
  • Early Career Scientist Deputy Chief’s Award., 2017
    This national USFS award recognizes “remarkable accomplishments that demonstrated exceptional productivity, and your ability to conduct high-impact relevant and applicable scientific studies with the potential to advance ecological and fire science.”
  • Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Research Award , 2016
    This Award recognizes the contribution of a timely research endeavor that informs and responds to wilderness stewardship challenges. Awarded for Parks et al. 2015. Ecological Applications.
  • Early Career Scientist Publication, 2015
    Awarded by RMRS for: Parks SA, Holsinger LM, Miller C, Nelson CR (2015) Wildland fire as a self-regulating mechanism: the role of previous burns and weather in limiting fore spread. Ecol. Apps.
  • Best Scientific Publication, 2013
    Awarded by RMRS for my contribution to: Squires JR, DeCesare NJ, Olson LE, Kolbe JA, Hebblewhite M, Parks SA (2013) Combining resource selection and movement behavior to predict corridors for Canada lynx at their southern range periphery. Biol. Cons.
  • Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Research Award , 2013
    Awarded for my contribution to: Larson AJ, Belote RT, Cansler CA, Parks SA, Dietz MS (2013) Latent resilience in ponderosa pine forest: effects of resumed frequent fire. Ecol. Apps.
  • Best Scientific Publication, 2012
    Awarded by RMRS for my contribution to: McKelvey KS, Copeland J, Schwartz MK, Littell JS, Aubry K, Squires JR, Parks SA, Elsner M, Mauger G (2011) Climate change predicted to shift wolverine distributions, connectivity, and dispersal corridors. Ecol. Apps

Featured Publications & Products


Research Highlights


Human Land Uses Reduce Climate Connectivity

Climate connectivity - the ability of a landscape to promote or hinder species movement when responding to a changing climate - depends on multi ...


Living on the Edge: Trailing Edge Forests Are at Risk

Forests are an incredibly important resource across the globe, yet they are threatened by climate change through stressors such as drought, inse ...


Mapping Fire Regimes in the Western United States

Forest managers and policymakers are increasingly concerned about potential for increased fire activity and severity in future years. Although m ...


New Use of Remotely Sensed Data Help Map Daily Progression of Wildfires

Variable weather conditions have a dramatic influence on fire behavior and fire effects, but the influence of weather can be particularly diffic ...


Quantifying the Ability of Wildfire to Act as a Fuel Break

Forest Service scientists conducted a study using fire history atlases, fire progression maps, and weather station data to quantify the ability ...


The Effectiveness of Wildfire as a Fuel Treatment

New research results provide crucial information to land managers as they assess trade-offs associated with wildfire suppression and appropriate ...


Why and where high-severity fire occurs

An evaluation using consistent data and methods across the broad geographic range of forested landscapes of the western United States will allo ...


Wildfires today impact future wildfires

Wildland fire limits subsequent fire occurrence. Researchers monitored the extent to which a previous wildland fire inhibits new fires from igni ...


Wildland Fire Deficit and Surplus in the Western U.S.

Wildland fire is an important disturbance agent in the western U.S. and globally; however, the natural role of fire has been disrupted in many r ...


Wildland Fire: Nature’s Fuel Treatment

In recent decades, many landscapes across the western United States have experienced substantial fire activity. These fires consume fuels and al ...


Windows of Opportunity for Allowing Wilderness Fires to Burn

A goal of fire management in wilderness is to allow fire to play its natural ecological role without intervention. Unfortunately, most unplanned ...


Last updated on : 10/01/2021